Justice: Definitions

To ask people living in our culture at this time what justice means is to open the door to several very different views as this article from the University of Colorado explains.  It should be noted as we move from our theme on Culture and Tradition to this month long focus on Justice, that these definitions are very much the product of the cultures and sub-cultures in which people live.  What does the word “justice” mean to you?  How do you find yourself using it?  When you hear it used by others, what do you hear  them meaning by it, and how does that interact with your own understanding?

Here are some of the ways that people in our cultures and sub-cultures use the term “justice.”

Justice means equality.  In this approach, everyone gets the same, whatever is being considered.

Justice means equity.  In the first sense of equity, people receive in proportion to how hard they work.  Those who work harder receive more than those who do not.  This approach has clearly been influenced by what is known as the Puritan or Protestant work ethic.

Justice means equity in a different sense.  This understanding focuses on safety nets–the poor and vulnerable receive more attention or at least first attention.

Justice is a focus on process.  Is any particular process a just one or not.  This requires further deliberation:  is a just process one that focuses on equality, equity, equity based on work or equity based on need, etc.

Justice is a focus on access to systems.  Some groups may argue that because they are the majority or wealthiest that they have a right to influence a system (political, economic, etc) while minority groups may claim that because they do not have access to the system, they deserve special access.

Justice is where everyone receives what they need to survive and thrive.  This approach includes a sense of equity focused on social safety nets, human rights and process.

Often the word justice refers to criminal justice.  This becomes particularly tricky as a culture’s sense of how to respond to crime is culturally driven.  Does the culture embrace the notion of revenge?  How does the culture’s sense of criminal justice measure up to international concerns for human rights and reconciliation?

Our Unitarian Universalist understanding of justice is grounded in our discerned call as a community “to break down divisions, heal isolation, and honor the interconnectedness of all life”.  We might recognize in this a sense of justice that is always relational and that at times might embrace any combination of the issues above.  The Unitarian Universalist Association addresses a number of applications of this relational justice to many specific areas of concern.

Over the course of this month, you will read the words and hear the voices of many in our Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett as we share our understandings, visions and practices of justice in our community and world.  What does justice mean to you?

Bob Patrick

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  1. Pingback: Definitions of Justice | West Fork Unitarian Universalists

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